While the U.S. Supreme Court probes a case that would expand state aid to religious schools, the public education industrial complex has its pants unnecessarily in a twist.

The Catholic Church long has provided some of the best schools in the United States. Secular society has been happy to benefit from Catholic education without helping sustain it.

Of special concern, the loss of women religious teachers and other factors have driven up the cost of Catholic schools, making it hard for lower-income families to afford them. Catholics donate mightily, but the gap is too large and many Americans miss out on the kind of education they want.

Public money for Catholic education seems odd only in a culture that has misapplied the notion of separating church and state. The idea was to keep the state from meddling in religion and to block a state-sponsored church, not to cut religion out of public life or hamstring the social benefits faith groups provide. Many Canadian provinces have used public funds for Catholic schools since the 1860s.

The court case now at issue arose in Maine, which supports non-religious private schools but gives bupkis for religious schools.

U.S. public educators have expressed concern that state funds in religious schools will support discouragement of transgender life or homosexual behavior. Maybe so. But at present taxpayer money gets employed to encourage an enthusiastic embrace of those paths, something not all parents condone.

A chief principle at play entered U.S. law from an Oregon case settled in 1925. The state’s voters had passed a law forcing all children to attend public schools. In an appeal, the church argued that children belong to parents, not the state, and so should be educated as parents see fit. The court agreed.

Public schooling is vital for a healthy society. The question is, why not expand our definition of public education and reap even more benefit?